State of Denial
From the perspective of public policy and narrative, President Bush's 2005 State of the Union Address brought few surprises. But for sheer chutzpah, President Bush reached new heights.
1. The Social Security Shell Game
As expected, Bush focused on Social Security privatization. Also as expected, he continued the selective use of numbers to create the phantasm of a "crisis." Needless to say, there was no mention of the $2 trillion cost and the serious risks of private accounts. Even more cynical, Bush in the guise of flexibility introduced politically unpopular trial balloons for Social Security, all of which he attributed to Democrats (Bill Clinton on raising the retirement age, John Breaux on ending early collection of benefits, Tim Penny on indexing benefits to inflation, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan on benefit calculations.)
2. Freedom's Just Another Word for...
As we wrote prior to the speech, President Bush tried to appropriate the very terms "liberty" and "freedom" for the GOP, in part by equating his crusade for freedom abroad with the greater "liberty" provided by his domestic program at home. His admonishments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, no doubt a bone tossed to critics of his Second Inaugural, were oddly out of step. And his tough talk towards Syria and Iran ("To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder") certainly will not calm friends or foes.
3. Keeping It Real with African-Americans
President Bush continued his shameless, transparent pandering to African-Americans, especially black churches. This is the same man who refused to meet with the NAACP during and ignored the Congressional Black Caucus his first term. Tonight, he promised to increase funding for African-American men and women afflicted with HIV-AIDS, use faith-based initiative funds to help churches fight gangs, and boost spending on DNA analysis for defense attorneys. As he did during his January 12 town hall meeting on Social Security, Bush wanted to keep it real for his homeboys.
4. Red Meat for Red States
Bush also offered his most vociferous supporters among the Spongebob crucifixion crowd the obligatory props. Despite recent news that the White House would back off the Federal Marriage Amendment, Bush reiterated his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The President also recycled his "culture of life" rhetoric during one of the more bizarre moments of the night; while he spoke out against embryonic stem cell research, the camera focused on the wife of Christopher Reeve.
5. Passion Play - Iraq as Theater
Without question, the image of an Iraqi voter embracing the mother of a Marine killed in Fallujah will dominate reaction to the President's speech. It was very emotional and quite moving, but also no substitute for an American strategy for success.
In a nutshell, the speech was what one would expect from Mr. Personality. But judging from the instant CNN web poll results, the 60% positive rating by viewers showed that, as usual, it seemed to work for him.